35th Annual Chinati Weekend enlivens Marfa with art and community 

Chinati Artist in Residence Jesus Benavente’s I’m Not Dancing, I’m Struggling to Survive was on display as part of the artist’s open studio during Chinati Weekend. Photo by Alex Marks, courtesy the artist.

MARFA — This year’s Chinati Weekend — an annual open house event thrown by the revered arts institution since 1987 — saw tourists and locals alike mingling and enjoying everything local and visiting artists had to offer Friday through Sunday. An estimated 800 people gathered in the Chinati Arena for Saturday night’s free community dinner, a yearly tradition started by founder Donald Judd. 

The main focus of the celebration each year is the museum’s collections, which are open for self-guided touring — typically, visitors have to sign up for a tour to view everything in the collection. “It’s the one time a year we can wander around Chinati at our own pace,” curator Ingrid Schaffner said. 

The weekend’s festivities kicked off with Made in Marfa, highlighting local artists and craftsmen. Old school Marfa institutions like the Wrong Store, Binder Gallery and Ballroom Marfa opened their doors for festive openings alongside relative newcomers like JEFF, Art Blocks and Maintenant. 

Marfa-based artist Cody Barber showed a piece at Problem Gallery, a DIY pop-up space curated by Brenden Cicoria. Barber has had a presence in the local art scene for years — his powder-coated horseshoes and crushed can sculptural works are a staple at local shops and galleries. 

The inaugural opening at Problem gave Barber the opportunity to show work alongside freshly-minted artists and to mingle with a diverse group of people. “A very mixed crowd came through — a nice mix of locals and tourists, business owners, people of all ages,” he said. “The overall energy is one I haven’t felt since the pandemic.” 

Barber had hoped to host his own open studio as part of Made in Marfa, but got swamped with commissions and other projects before he could make adequate preparations. Cicoria’s invitation to show work alongside neighbors and friends was a welcome surprise. “They really took a lot of stress off of the artists,” Barber said. 

By “stress,” he meant the typical headaches of organizing a show — coordinating all of the promotion and the installation, and in Friday night’s case, a booth serving nacho fries provided by Cloudy’s Desert Bistro. In a break with traditional gallery culture, the artists were encouraged to list their work for sale with 100% of the proceeds going to the artist. 

Barber walked away from the experience feeling optimistic about the future of the local art scene. “It just felt really innocent — I mean that like ‘pure’ in the face of what the art world can sometimes bring,” he said. “It was all about people who live here and what they can do, and that they deserve to share that with their community and with visitors.” 

Other highlights of the weekend included an open studio with Chinati Artist In Residence Jesus Benavente, and an opportunity for visitors to view a commissioned work by Sarah Crowner titled “Platform (Blue Terracotta for JC).” On Saturday, Schaffner interviewed Crowner at the Crowley Theater to a packed house. “She was so generous with all that she shared,” Schaffner said. 

Another highlight for many attendees was a show of photographs by John Chamberlain, whose sculptures are an integral part of the Chinati collection and a part of the largest single installation of his work in the world. “I think these photographs are real news to people,” Schaffner said. Guests in particular were particularly fond of a photograph posed in a hotel bathroom — “Who knew Chamberlain invented the bathroom selfie?”

Schaffner has curated the world-renowned museum since 2020 — her first Chinati Weekend was also the first Chinati Weekend hosted completely online. Last year, many still made the pilgrimage, but pandemic precautions put a damper on a lot of the usual festivities. “There was so much vitality,” Schaffner said to sum up the weekend. “It really felt like we’re back up to speed.”